Skip’s Quips: There’s a Gaffe in My Soup

Blog Sketch 082813I look back in bemusement whenever I recall the original 1977 Star Wars.

It’s a terrific flick, don’t get me wrong. But each time I start thinking about it, I summon up remembrance of continuity issues past—specifically, that scene where Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, out cold after being beaten up by mean-spirited Sand People, somehow shifts his head’s position on the ground without allowing the audience to witness the change. In the first shot, it’s facing the side. In a later shot, it’s facing up.

The Force is strong with that one, right? He moves so quickly, the camera doesn’t even capture it.

Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and it’s too small an issue to ruin the film. Yet it strikes me as bizarre that in such a slick, polished production, a little continuity error like this could slither past. Wouldn’t someone have caught this before it reached the theaters?

Perhaps director George Lucas was concentrating more on the big picture when reviewing the film. He definitely had a lot to oversee, all things considered. Still, the paradox of great movies featuring tiny gaffes remains a constant. One can turn to Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, which allegedly saw the director order the set rebuilt after viewing a component that wouldn’t have appeared in the story’s era, yet contains a visible cut jumping from Toshiro Mifune’s still-alive Washizu to one pierced through the neck with an arrow. Or check out Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, in which Kim Novak’s faux Madeleine disappears into a house with no other exit, thereby befuddling both Scottie (Jimmy Stewart), who has followed her, and the audience. Or look into Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, where the army attacking Mordor finds itself mounted on horses in one shot and dismounted, with the steeds nowhere to be seen, in another.

There’s nothing we can so about this but suspend disbelief. These flicks are good enough to wave off continuity quibbles. As an audience, however, do we have a right to perfection for our money? Or just greatness? Am I asking too much that a film be error-free?

Perhaps. I’ll keep enjoying all the movies above, of course—nothing’s different there. I may, though, break a smile each time I watch these continuity-challenged scenes, in recognition of the idea that even masterpieces aren’t infallible.

It’s a good way to feel good about a good movie, isn’t it? I’ve already convinced myself that that’s true.

4 thoughts on “Skip’s Quips: There’s a Gaffe in My Soup

  1. As far as I go in for concerning myself with continuity, it’s only when the rupture represents a clear break from logic and when said break has any bearing on the plot. Bilbo’s sword Sting glowing at random during moments of the Hobbit were distracting, to use a weak example off the top of my head. However, Apocalypse Now supposedly has the highest continuity error count of any film ever, and while I’ve never bothered to look for a single one, I wonder if they don’t add to its hallucinatory appeal.

    • You’re absolutely right; that’s a good point. Now I’m curious about Apocalypse Now–I’ll have to watch it more carefully to spot the issues, but I do think it’s interesting that perhaps all that is lost in the hallucinatory quality of the film.

      • I think they shot over a period of 14 months or something ridiculous like that. How does one maintain continuity at that point? If I was the continuity manager on that film I might have drowned myself in the nearby river.

        And I always felt quibbling over continuity akin to mocking a spelling error. If it happens at the wrong moment it can be devastating and detrimental to the scene (as it can be for the sentence), but whenever it’s used to attack a movie it’s clear that the assailant is going for the cheapest, lowest hanging fruit.

        All that aside, however, one shot that always bothered me was the tumbler crashing in The Dark Knight (blasphemy, I know). Just as its settling in its final flip the shot lingers just a tad too many frames so that we can tell the momentum is going to pull it upside down, but then the shot cuts from the quarter scale model to the full scale tumbler settling wheels down. It’s a jarring cut. But then, a lot of the cuts in that chase scene are jarring. There’s an excellent video about the visual grammar of that chase scene that I think should be required viewing for all action directors (though it doesn’t mention that weird cut).

      • It’s so interesting–you’re right, of course, and I agree that quibbling over continuity in a movie can be like checking for grammar/spelling; it doesn’t change my elevated opinion of Star Wards, Throne of Blood, Return of the King or any other great film, though it can be jarring–I was just thinking of another example in a masterpiece that always bemused me: the coin-pouring scene at the beginning of Ivan the Terrible, Part I, where it’s obvious that coins in one bowl are about to be finished, yet in a later shot (possibly the next one), there’s a surplus of coins dumped on the Tsar’s head that certainly looks like more than the previously shown amount. These things definitely can be jarring, and I agree with you on Apocalypse Now … that must’ve been a very difficult thing to film from a continuity standpoint, what with all the bizarre sequences and misty transitions! Good points, Binary. 🙂

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